Why Is Everyone Obsessed With Rhubarb?
Ian Davis of Band of Bohemia (pictured right) likens rhubarb to "granny Smith apples on steroids—supper tart and sour with a hint of sweetness." His team cooks it down with elderflower liqueur and sugar to make a jam that is used year round. Davis thinks it's great when paired with anything sweet or fatty, such as French toast or foie gras.
Joe Flamm of Spiaggia agrees that rhubarb is too acidic on its own, and needs sweetness or fat to balance it. He admits that there are limited savory applications, but it is currently featured on Spiaggia's dessert menu poached in bubblegum—yes, you read that correctly—with Roman honey cake, buttermilk and spritz syrup. One thing he does mention is that rhubarb is one crop that grows well in the Midwest. "That's a big thing for us when we consider local sourcing. As Midwestern chefs, it's always good to get something that actually grows here," he states.
For Erika Chan—the new executive pastry chef of The Publican and its family of restaurants (left)—she is a rhubarb-phile, praising its vegetal, bright, tart and clean flavors. "My number one reason for loving rhubarb is it's adaptability and versatility, which is why I have it all over the menu currently (our shared brown butter rhubarb crostata, rhubarb baba au rum, a rhubarb jam sable in our cookie jar and on cinnamon toast at brunch)," Chan shares. "I love rhubarb in pie and jam. It also makes a great accent to dishes when it is lightly poached or hot pickled. Rhubarb can provide great texture and acidity when barely cooked and lightly sweetened. It takes on deep, rich flavors such as caramel and brown butter wonderfully, but also can be bright and acidic when paired with citrus and lighter flavors."
My own skepticism aside, each of the chefs shared the same reason as to why rhubarb is so beloved (and one that I can get behind): "It is the first sign of spring. After a winter of pears and apples, it is always exciting to get rhubarb in for its color, freshness and bright flavor. Along with seasonal spring ingredients like favas, ramps and peas, rhubarb signals the end of winter," says Chan.
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